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TitleProphecy in Biblical Times
Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsSeely, David Rolph
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsAncient Near East; Prophecy
Citation Key9488

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Prophecy in Biblical Times

Author: Seely, David R.

From Adam (Moses 6:8) to John the Revelator, the Lord has revealed his word to prophets: "The Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7; cf. Num. 12:6-8; Jer. 23:18). Prophecy refers to God's word received by prophets acting as authorized intermediaries between God and humans.

The Lord called men from the course of their normal lives to be prophets and revealed his word in various ways: by face-to-face encounters, his voice alone, divine messengers, dreams, and inspiration. Often prophets received the Lord's word through symbolic object lessons, visions of councils in heaven and scenes of judgment, and views of past, present, and future events, and hence, they were also called "foretellers" and "forth-tellers." Occasionally expressed poetically, biblical prophecy is rich in imagery, metaphor, symbolism, allusion, and other literary figures. Besides the prophecies in the Bible, others from the biblical period are preserved in the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants.

Biblical prophets acted frequently as mediators of covenants. Prophets such as Adam, Enoch, Noah, the brother of jared, Abraham, and Moses acted as agents through whom the Lord established his covenants among men and women. These prophets proclaimed the gospel and called their contemporaries to repent and join in a covenantal relationship with the Lord, providing inspired descriptions of future blessings and cursings that depended on obedience to the conditions of the covenants. Prophets who followed, such as Lehi, Ether, Isaiah, Jeremiah, King Benjamin, and John the Baptist, renewed the covenant and warned the covenant people, in varying states of apostasy, that they must repent and keep their covenantal obligations or face the consequences of disobedience-judgment, destruction, and scattering.

Biblical prophets often addressed the present by looking into the future, and prophecies of destruction were balanced by those of hope. Prophets foresaw apostasy and restoration, the scattering and gathering of Israel, the coming of Jesus Christ and his Atonement (Jacob 4:4; Mosiah 13:33; D&C 20:26), and times of tribulation preceding his return (Acts 3:21). Along with their indictments of Covenant Israel, many prophets delivered oracles directed to foreign nations, affirming the universal scope of their message (Amos 9:7). Most prophets in biblical times directed their unpopular message of repentance toward individuals or the community, thus placing the prophet in opposition to the prevailing social, political, and religious values, practices, and institutions of his time and place. Some prophets were killed or persecuted by those whose beliefs and behavior they condemned.

From the beginning, the Lord has set no limit on his ability to send prophets at his discretion. "And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever" (2 Ne. 29:9). Biblical prophecy did not end with Malachi but continued with the coming of John the Baptist (Matt. 13:57; Luke 7:39; 1 Ne. 10:4). In addition, the prophetic tradition continued in the Western Hemisphere until the destruction of the Nephites around A.D. 400. Joel prophesied the future restoration of prophecy: "I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28). The fulfillment of this prophecy was acknowledged by Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18) and again by the angel Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith (JS-H 1:41).

Latter-day scriptures cite, interpret, and allude to ancient prophecy, emphasizing its relevance to the restored Church. For example, important prophecies not in the biblical canon, such as those of Joseph of Egypt (2 Ne. 3) and Zenos (Jacob 5), are preserved in the Book of Mormon. Nephi 1 (e.g., 1 Ne. 20-22; 2 Ne. 11-24), Jacob (2 Ne. 7-8), Abinadi (Mosiah 14-15), and Christ (3 Ne. 20-25) cite Isaiah extensively and provide inspired interpretation (see Isaiah: Texts in the Book of Mormon). In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith addressed specific questions about Isaiah 11 (D&C 113) and the book of Revelation (D&C 77) and through revelation confirmed the fulfillment of several biblical prophecies in the latter days, including Daniel's vision of "the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands" as the restoration of the gospel (D&C 65:2) and the coming of Elijah in Malachi 4:5-6by his appearance in the Kirtland Temple in 1836 (D&C 110).


Jackson, Kent, ed. Studies in Scripture, Vol. 4. Salt Lake City, 1991.

Lindblom, Johannes. Prophecy in Ancient Israel, 2nd ed. Oxford, 1978.

Sperry, Sidney B. The Voice of Israel's Prophets. Salt Lake City, 1952.